Economy empties chicken houses

SILER CITY -- On his commercial chicken farm a few miles outside town, Sam Talley has been spending less time with his pullets and more time in the pasture where he goes to be alone.

"I go up there and sit in my truck with my Bible, and I read and I think," Talley said.

He's thinking that if he doesn't get a break, he'll lose his 69 Chatham County, N.C. acres, his four chicken houses, the home he shares with his wife and the life savings they invested to start Talley Farms eight years ago.

"I'm nearly 60 years old," Talley said. "I could end up with nothing. Nothing."

Talley is one of 44 farmers in six North Carolina counties who raised chickens on contract for Pilgrim's Pride and were dropped by the company in October as the industry spiraled down. Of the 44, two farmers retired. Three picked up contracts to raise birds for other companies. At least two are headed into foreclosure and the rest, including Talley, worry they could be next.

Together, the farmers whose contracts were canceled have at least $15 million in outstanding debt on their properties and little idea how they'll pay it off.

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